Park South YMCA swim team enjoy year-round swimming

By Sophie McCauley

Originally published in The Dallas Free Press

Ava Thompson Hollins, nine, says her mother signed her up for swimming lessons at YMCA South Park because “ballet just hurts my toes”.

AWill’s mother, Amye Thompson Hollins, says she actually wanted her daughter to be “more confident around the water.

Awill started swimming at the Park South YMCA at age 2 in a Mommy and I class. At the age of 7, she joined the Park South Sharks swim team in her inaugural year.

“Most of the water safety program at Park South Y feeds our swimming program,” says Thompson-Hollins. “Most of the kids who end up on the swim team have so because they have just successfully completed water safety lessons.

After a year of training, Ava and the swim team began to compete. Earlier this months, she participated for the second time in the four-day YMCA Lone Star State Southeast Shark Swim Encounter, formerly South Park Sharks, at Frisco ISD swimming. The Park South Sharks have teamed up with the White Rock YMCA to create a bigger and more competitive team after depleting the number of teams over the summer.

Madel Perez coached the Sharks to a fifth-place finish in the regional standings last year competition against teams from Houston, Austin and the DFW area as well as Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Perez says what made this victory so remarkable was that the South Dallas Sharks were one of the few teams with a diverse group of students.

“Our team is 95% brown – Latino and African American,” says Perez. “Swimming is not generally considered an African American or Latino sport.

Perez is now the YMCA’s regional water sports director, overseeing Park South, T. Boone Pickens and Grand Prairie. She says the team was created to change “the mentality in South Dallas about swimming.

Perez says 80% to 85% of the community don’t “swim” and that raises concerns of increase in deaths, especially among children. Studies show that almost 60% of all Aafrican american children are unable to swim and minority children are three times more likely to drown.

Jennifer Pewitt, Associate Vice President for Aquatics and Southern Area, says the The swim team was the latest program at Park South Y designed to encourage water safety.

For over 20 years, the YMCA of Metro Dallas has partnered with Children’s the hospital to promote water safety through programs such as Know before you gowho gives parents advice on drowning prevention. They also have a program where students from area schools receive swimming lessons during their school day. Pewitt says this The Urban Swim program has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but students from nearby schools still use it. After completing eight lessons, participants receive a certificate and a family membership in the YMCA.

In 2010, Park South Y also launched the Apartment Community program using apartment community pools to teach children in area resorts to swim free of charge.

“Our goal going forward is to have our effort and proximity swim all year round,” Pewitt said. said.

The swim team is a year-round program, and Perez says the benefits for kids have more than just learning to keep your head above water.

“I think now we have kids who have completely transformed. You know their behavior, their attitudes, their way of speaking. They want to work harder.

Destine Godfrey, the new swim coach for the Southeast Sharks, cheers on her team at the YMCA Lone Star State Swim Meet last month in Frisco. While Godfrey has worked with more competitive private clubs in the past, she felt she ‘needed to get involved’ when she heard about the new Y team in South Dallas | Photo credit: Sophie McCauley

Godfrey is now in his second year with the YMCA and is starting his first with the team.

“It makes them feel like a family place, because we all have to work in the water together all the time.

Hollins says there are still hurdles to joining a swim team, especially for South Dallas families. Practice for Southeast Sharks is at 4:30 p.m. daily.

“I think there is still work to be done on the availability [swim team] is bBecause most of the kids in the southern sector, the inner city kids, have some kind of after school because parents usually have to work until five otherwise later.”

Owith practices straddling the Park South Y and the White Rock Y, transportation and logistics can be challenging for parents. Still, Hollins says the benefits of being part of the swimming team have offset the costs.

“We have a child who can participate in a team sport at a young age, like 4 years old, and learn to work in a team. The confidence they gain by yielding to authority, by having this responsibility, it teaches them a lot of things that will help them progress grades at school. ”

For more information on Southeast Sharks, email [email protected].

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